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    Running Game Sets Tone For Alabama

    By: Scott Crumbly
    Twitter: @ScottCrumbly
    SEC Digital Network

    We saw it all year long from Alabama. The Crimson Tide, behind the strength of an elite offensive line and two of the Southeastern Conference’s best backs, had routinely dominated opponents with its powerful ground attack.

    So it should not come as any surprise that Bama once again dominated the line of scrimmage in its 42-14 demolition of top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night. The Tide rolled up 265 rushing yards against what had been the nation’s fourth-rated run defense in the regular season, averaging a shade below six yards per carry in the process.

    As dominant as Alabama had been in the trenches all season, however, there was a belief that, if any defense was built to combat the Tide’s ground-and-pound onslaught, it was that of Notre Dame. The Irish boast a trio of 300-pounders on the defensive line in front of a talented group of linebackers headlined by Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o and his running mates Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Prince Shembo.

    Notre Dame was supposed to provide a stiff challenge up front for Alabama’s great wall comprised of center Barrett Jones, guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen, and tackles D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio.

    Once the two teams hit the field, though, the Tide rolled over the Irish...and it wasn’t even close.

    After receiving the opening kickoff, Alabama made a statement on its very first possession by marching 82 yards to pay dirt. After the Fighting Irish stuffed Eddie Lacy for a one-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage, Alabama proceeded to run for 33 yards on the drive, including Lacy’s 20-yard touchdown rumble that gave the Tide the early lead. It was apparent from the get-go that the Tide’s o-line was winning the battle at the point of attack, moving Notre Dame defenders back off the line to create large running lanes.

    After the Bama defense stymied Notre Dame on a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, the Crimson Tide once again took to the ground. The Irish received another dose of Lacy, as Alabama racked up another 41 yards on the ground. The ground game set up a three-yard touchdown from AJ McCarron to Michael Williams. 14-0, Tide.

    Following another short-lived drive from the Irish, Alabama ran for 17 more yards en route its next score, a one-yard plunge by T.J. Yeldon to give the Tide a commanding 21-0 lead just four seconds into the second quarter.

    Not only did Alabama prove a point – that it could control the line against Notre Dame – early on, but it did so with an exclamation point. Over a span of just three possessions, the Tide had compiled 91 rushing yards and two scores on the ground on 6.5 yards per carry.

    Notre Dame’s season averages coming into Sun Life Stadium? A stingy 92.4 yards per game on the ground and only two rushing touchdowns surrendered in 12 contests. Alabama’s offensive line asserted its dominance in the early going and did not look back, clearing the way for the backs to average 5.9 yards per tote on the game.

    Much credit is due to the Tide’s duo of bruising backs, Lacy and Yeldon. At 220 and 216 pounds, respectively, Lacy and Yeldon run with a level of power that makes them nightmares to tackle. All season long, the two runners have shown incredible vision and strength on their way to over 2,000 combined yards and 27 scores, and they showed a lot more of that on Monday en route to 248 combined yards and two more touchdowns.

    But the unsung heroes on any football team are the offensive linemen. And although Alabama’s front five have received plenty of accolades, it’s really not possible to say enough about how well the unit played all season. It’s hard enough to tackle backs the caliber of Lacy and Yeldon on their own, but when they consistently have four or five yards of room off the line of scrimmage to get a head of steam, it makes it even tougher; the Tide simply overpowers you and wears you down up front. That kind of physicality takes a serious toll on defenders, and even Notre Dame’s vaunted defense was not able to withstand it.

    Even more impressive perhaps is the fact that Jones, the All-American anchor of the line, played Monday night’s game with a painful Lisfranc injury in his left foot. Despite the injury, which usually requires surgery and is generally too painful for players to battle through, Jones still went toe-to-toe with 326-pound nose tackle Louis Nix III of Notre Dame.

    If that doesn’t define Alabama football, I’m not sure what does.

    The Bama rushing offense has been a sight to see all season long, and it was great in the biggest game of the season. That’s not to say that the passing game had no part in the blowout victory – I haven’t even touched on McCarron’s flawless four-touchdown performance or Amari Cooper’s 105 yards and two scores from the receiver position. Alabama’s success came from all over the field, not just in the trenches.

    But make no mistake, the offensive line’s ability to win the line of scrimmage has been the key to Alabama’s success this season, and that was the case once again in Miami.